Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Reviews: Black Powder War [2006] and Empire of Ivory [2007]

I kept up my rapid progress through the Temeraire series, primarily listening to the third and fourth volumes on audio CD, but also picking up the paper version when the suspense was too much to withstand after leaving the car. This method of consuming books means there is some confusion as to where I am in the audiobook when I return to it, but it definitely cuts down on sitting in the driveway. Black Powder War picks up almost immediately where Throne of Jade left off, with Temeraire and Laurence in China after the untimely death of Prince Yongxing, their role in which has earned them the eternal enmity of his white dragon Lien. As they prepare to return to England, they receive an urgent order to proceed directly to Istanbul [which was Constantinople] to receive three dragon eggs that have been purchased by the crown. Guided by the mysterious and ambivalent Tharkay, Laurence and company make the grueling overland journey from China, encountering desert nomads, feral dragons, and other hazardous roadblocks on the way. Once in Istanbul, however, they find their way barred by bureaucracy, and are forced to abduct the eggs and flee toward safety in Prussia, where they become pressed into a disastrous campaign against Napoleon and his new dragon advisor, Lien.

In Empire of Ivory, Temeraire and Laurence finally return home to discover that a deadly plague has decimated the dragon population, including the members of their formation. Temeraire's strange resistance to the infection leads them back to a place in Africa, where they had paused on their voyage to the Far East. Napoleon threatens, and time is definitely not on their side as dragons sicken and die at home while they search for the cure in the midst of colonial politics and a strange and dangerous community of African dragons. Upon their return, Laurence makes a bitter decision that will alter the course of his life forever.

Grade: B [for Black Powder War, which I felt could have used a little less going from point A to point B and more of Temeraire in general] and B+ [for Empire of Ivory, which was entertaining despite the improbability of returning to Africa to find a single variety of mushroom]

Random Thoughts:

After four books, the series has taken us to Europe, Africa, and Asia, introduced us to a host of dragons, and skillfully interwoven fantastic voyages with battle scenes, Victorian propriety, and (of course) man-dragon love. I call that a job well done.

One of the recurring threads in these books, as with the first two in the series, is the status of dragons in European society and their treatment by most (including the British government) as less-than-sentient beings, when in fact they have the same range of intelligence as men. The favorable situation in China, where dragons live among men without fear (on either part), inspires Temeraire to return to England to create change for his compatriots, beginning with negotiations for pay. Laurence naturally has mixed feelings; he has never been prone to examining why things are done the way they are, he simply accepts the status quo and does his duty. However, when faced with the truth of how dragons are treated at home, he is forced to open his eyes and realize that perhaps he has committed his life to a government whose aims and practices he often does not agree with. This building tension, brought on by Temeraire's incessantly questioning mind, brings him quite logically to the fateful decision at the end of Empire of Ivory. Dragon civil rights!

Simon Vance continues to be an excellent narrator of the audio versions, and I have much appreciated his vocal flexibility as he is called on to perform an ever-greater number of roles in what has become a multi-national cast of thousands.

ETA: Reviews of other books in this series here and here.

Dead Mother: No
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